Shell-shocked and in state of bus lag, I was driven back to Madrid and Ricardo dumped me at Rosa and Manuel’s then invited me to lunch at the weekend.
‘When am I to move into the flat?’
‘The landlady ees on holiday. You can move next week.’
‘Ricardo, I don’t want to impose on your friends.’
‘Don’t worry hospitality ees important in Spain. Rosa likes company, she ees very lonely because she doesn’t have any cheeldrren.’
By the time I reached my lunch date with Ricardo and his family, I was hysterical. Rosa tidied up after me; made me copious meals, which were wonderful but too much to eat in the midday heat. Furthermore, she insisted I sit and watch television with them, which exacerbated my tiredness, coupled with the unfamiliarity of everything.
Sunday arrived, and I was to meet Ricardo’s wife also called Rosa. She spoke some English and I told her about my first few days and my stay with their friends Rosa and Manuel and their overbearing generosity. She pulled a rather strange expression; I was later to find out why. However, she seemed more practical and approachable than Ricardo, so hoping for female solidarity and modern thinking I launched my campaign, ‘Rosa – Rosa is driving me mad.’
She looked puzzled, and said, ‘but Rosa can’t drive.’
A quick rethink was needed, taking a deep breath, I continued,
‘Rosa is very kind and nice but she does too much for me. I- do – not – want – or – need – anyone – to – cook – and – clean – for – me.’
‘Don’t worry, she is typically Spanish, she likes to cook and clean.’
It was too easy to blame the confrontations on cultural differences. It was to be several years later that I was to learn that during Franco’s dictatorship women had to undertake the female equivalent of National service. As in Nazi Germany of the thirties, they were “taught” to be good wives, mothers, and housekeepers. Selflessly giving themselves, to being producers and carers of healthy patriotic Spanish Children. These courses were in the main taught by nuns. Although not taking place today, as recently as 1979, women who wanted to get a passport required the certificate of accreditation stating they had successfully completed the course. The consequence is that Spanish children, even throughout the transition, were being brought up by mothers who had been indoctrinated that their only role was to be of service to others.
Unfortunately, Rosa, my first landlady, was to be the traumatic introduction to these women, victims of right wing antiquated macho conditioning. Whereas women in western industrialised society have seen more improvements in their position since the end of the Second World War than throughout several millennia, Spanish women had their traditional role frozen. Women who lived through and for their families, they themselves, as well as their immediate environment, annihilating their own needs, wishes, thoughts and ideas. I was to witness and participate in clashes and conflicts between the belief systems of these restrained submissive women and the ones who believed they had a right to their own independence in thought, opinions, and movement. Had I known then what I know now, I may well have been more tolerant and accepting of the landlady’s needs. Married but childless, she had no children or grandchildren to demand her services. It was a new experience for me; women of even the younger generations liked and admitted to liking housework. Ricardo and his wife Rosa were unaware of the stress of having someone enter and interfere in your personal space.
‘Okay, but I tidy my books; I put my Spanish guidebooks together, my Spanish language books together, and my teaching books together. I come back and she has put them in a different place and in size order from big to small. I like to be organised but she disorganises me.’
Ricardo and Rosa just laughed.
‘Please. Please listen, she organises my make up like my books, I don’t like people touching my personal things. I don’t like her to feel she has to serve me.’
Ricardo grinned; I was to learn the grin was not a good sign. ‘You teepically British. Rosa is teepically Spanish.’
I raised my voice into a piercing whine, ‘She is impossible Do you know what she did on Saturday?
‘What?’ they asked in unison, looking at me with child like grins on their faces.
Realising they were enjoying it I continued, ‘I wanted to go to the Prado.’ I paused as they nodded in approval of me seeking out Spain’s national art treasures. I continued my voice becoming even more strained, ‘I said to Rosa – Prado. She took me down stairs and held my hand across the road. Until the bus arrived, I was terrified she was going to come with me. She gave instructions to the bus driver and that was bad enough.’
Their laughter increased my tension I was determined to make them understand I could not cope living with Rosa. Almost breathless and hysterical I burst out, ‘I am 26, I do not need an adopted Latin Mama.’
A quick volley of Spanish took place between my boss and his wife, followed by a telephone call. Ricardo beamed, not the grin so, what was to come had to be more optimistic news.
‘You move on Tuesday. I think staying with Rosa will not be good for you weight; she is too good a cook. All Spanish women are good cooks.’
I could not believe what I was hearing, the woman is driving me to the point of a nervous breakdown, and he worries about my weight. This I was to learn to my cost, as did all the other members of the English department, that this was a typical Ricardo reaction. Once when pay cheques were late and when trying to get through to Ricardo that we had problems with money we used the illustrative example approach: Ricardo we have no money. we have been in Spain a month and we don’t even have the money for the bus fare to Toledo. The very next Saturday we were on our way for a day out in Toledo.
Ricardo on this occasion kept his word and on Tuesday I met my landlady Tina, who was bossy and overpowering, but at least we weren’t under the same roof, only next-door neighbours. It was an apartment, modern but going to be a claustrophobic for two people who also had to work together but anything was better than staying with Rosa. On returning to collect my stuff which had been duly, dusted reorganised, I found out that my stay at Rosa’s had been as a paying guest and it had not been cheap. I felt like a slave at the trading market watching my first month’s salary appear to evaporate in front of my eyes as Ricardo and Rosa negotiated the cost of my five days stay. It was one of many examples of Ricardo never really telling the full story.